Matthew: Welcome to this week’s edition of Tuesday Morning Quarterback, USCHO’s weekly column in which we go over some of the biggest talking points from the weekend that was in college hockey. Normally Jim Connelly and Todd Milewski are the masters of ceremonies in this space, but I’ve been asked to step in and wag chins with Jim about last weekend.
We’ve got a lot to talk about here between things that happened on the ice and even some things that happened away from it. One of perhaps college hockey’s smaller schools in Michigan Tech fell from the top of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, while D-I hockey will soon be picking up a very big name in Arizona State.
We’ll get to both of these topics, but let’s stay balanced nationally. Jim, what’s the biggest thing that caught your eye out further east last week?
Jim: Well, what caught my eye also caught the eye of many of the voters in this week’s poll, and that’s Boston University. The Terriers’ come-from-behind win on Friday against Maine was a memorable one, scoring twice in the third to tie the game before rookie extraordinaire Jack Eichel scored the OT winner on a stunning end-to-end rush.
Now the Terriers become the team with the target, taking the top spot in the poll. And that target will be worn Tuesday night as BU takes on an upstart Harvard team in a pre-Thanksgiving game. Pretty compelling for a midweek game.
Matthew: “Extraordinaire” almost seems to be putting it mildly with the attention he’s already been getting in his short time with the Terriers. BU intrigues me, though, and it seems like it’s been a long time since the Terriers have been in the top spot.
Michigan Tech was there last week but fell twice to Minnesota State and also dropped in our poll. Tech was and remains a great story early on this season, but how much more staying power do you think BU might have in terms of staying on top?
Jim: I think that experience usually breeds staying power atop the polls. And while BU has plenty of hockey tradition, none of its current roster has enjoyed any significant success. Second-year coach David Quinn has a winning resume and was a part of the 2009 NCAA championship team as an assistant. But it’s hard to get a feel for whether BU has a staying power at the top.
Back out west, what do you think we should make of Minnesota State? A great two-game road sweep of No. 1 Michigan Tech seems noteworthy but didn’t create a huge jump in the poll. Are the Mavs underappreciated?
Matthew: I think the whole WCHA is. Mike Hastings has turned Minnesota State into a perennial contender since he moved up there after his time as an assistant at Omaha, and I think people tend to forget North Dakota’s goaltender Zane McIntyre stole an NCAA tournament regional final against Ferris State and robbed the Bulldogs of what would’ve been a deserved place in the Frozen Four.
As for Michigan Tech, Mel Pearson has done a brilliant job with the Huskies ever since leaving Michigan. One wonders whether he, like Hastings in Omaha, saw the writing on the wall that head coaching jobs would have to be found elsewhere.
At 5-6 right now, Michigan must wish it could’ve done more to keep Pearson around. Minnesota and Penn State have both done pretty well so far, but after that, the Big Ten has been a big mess. What do you think is going on in that league?
Jim: The only Big Ten team I am seriously concerned about is Wisconsin. The Badgers might just be one of the three worst teams in the country. Losing to a struggling Colorado College team on Friday further cemented my extreme concerns for Wisco.
I think Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all have a ton of potential in the Big Ten but Wisconsin may already be in the middle of a lost season.
Another big story last week was the elevation of Arizona State from club to Division I beginning next season. A lot to be discussed there, including what conference the Sun Devils will play in. But what are your initial thoughts?
Matthew: Regardless of where the Sun Devils eventually slot into, I think the fact that ASU is starting a Division I program is fantastic for college hockey. It further allays many people’s fears that conference expansion was going to hurt college hockey, because so far it feels as though quite the opposite has been taking place.
I have to think that the NCHC would be the best fit for ASU, or at least early on. I believe it’s the best geographic fit for as long as the Sun Devils are the only Pac-12 school with a D-I hockey program. I know ASU hopes that making this move will tip the dominoes with some of their Pac-12 brethren, though, and I’m curious to get your thoughts as to whether or not that’s doable.
Jim: I will admit I have tempered optimism, not for Arizona State but rather to believe you can find five other Pac-12 schools to pony up a minimum of $30 million to invest in hockey.
Just because there are some of the nation’s strongest financial athletic programs in that conference doesn’t mean that there will suddenly be a financial dump into college hockey programs. And angel donors, while now responsible for the two newest D-I programs, are still rare.
Trust me, I am excited for more college hockey expansion, but thinking this is the dawn of a new era may be a bit of a pipe dream at this point.
If anyone wonders how good this Jack Eichel kid is, here is a video of his end-to-end rush in overtime that won the game against Maine on Friday. The video is about two-and-a-half minutes long, but you only need to watch 15 seconds to see Eichel’s brilliance.
Omaha knocked off Minnesota-Duluth 4-1 on Saturday to end what had been a no-loss November for the Bulldogs. The night before, UNO hosted UMD in a 3-2 win for the Bulldogs that ruined UNO’s first home game since Oct. 11. That means the Mavericks went nearly a month and a half between games early on this season at CenturyLink Center. Road wins mean a lot, and UNO went 5-0-1 on its six-game road trip, but UNO fans certainly had to sit tight for a while before getting their fix again.
As mentioned earlier, new No. 1 Boston University gets a Tuesday night test against No. 18 Harvard before hosting No. 9 Colgate on Saturday.
No. 2 North Dakota hosts No. 11 Omaha in a two-game NCHC series Friday and Saturday, and there are three other games between ranked teams this week:
• No. 3 Minnesota plays at No. 12 Boston College on Friday.
• The Eagles then play at No. 20 Providence on Saturday.
• Harvard plays at No. 4 Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday.